I went into downtown Lima twice while I was there, but would have loved to have gone back many more times. From Miraflores, you could either take the 45-minute bus ride into the centre, or catch the Metro, which costs a few soles more, but took half the time. I’ve travelled both ways and definitely recommend the Metro, its busier but the commute is much nicer.
The first time I went into central Lima I was hoping for a more authentic Peruvian experience. Miraflores was nice and all, but it was just like home. I wanted to see the nitty, gritty side of Lima – like how I’d imagined South America to be like. Luckily my hopes were answered and as soon as I got off the bus I was captivated. I was exploring with a few other people from Dragonfly that I had met this morning and we all had a mission, to find the Catacombs!
Walking into the centre I was amazed at the colour, the chaos and the dirtiness of the city. Now we were talking – this felt like what I’d imagined! We walked past Plaza San Martin and reached the Plaza De Armas, which was a square of bright yellow, colonial style buildings. The streets were jam-packed with people, mostly Peruvians that come up to my armpits, I tower over most people wherever I go! There are street vendors everywhere and people selling everything from tours to maps to tattoos on the street. It was hard to watch where I was walking because all the sights, smells and sounds kept distracting me.
After getting some directions from a local, we made it to the Monastery of San Francisco where the catacombs were. Once there, we were told that the tours went hourly and we’d just missed one. Not to be put out, we decided to grab lunch while we waited. One awesome thing about Peru (and most of South America I believe) is their menú lunch. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day so they offer a three or four course meal for a bargain price. We found a café offering a menú for 10 soles and were sold on what they were offering. I’m going to be truthful here – Peruvian food isn’t that fantastic. It’s very basic and carbohydrate based. We’re talking potatoes plus rice plus pasta in one sitting. Not so good for the waistline! Today’s menú was steamed potatoes with ahi sauce, chicken and rice with a cerveza sauce and vanilla cake to finish. I was stuffed after finishing it all! Not bad for about AUD$4!
We left the café and walked back to the catacombs, ready for guided tour. It was a beautiful old building, with an awesome library that looked straight out of Harry Potter and some amazing mosaic walls. We eventually made it down to the catacombs, where the air was cooler and the atmosphere was creepy. The catacombs were discovered in 1943 and contain thousands of bones, which are believed to go as far back as 1808. While it wasn’t as big as the catacombs in Paris, it still was a cool thing to see. It’s hard to believe all the bones we were seeing were once people living and breathing just as we are. It gives me the chills just thinking about it! I definitely recommend coming to the catacombs for a bit of a history lesson, its fascinating albeit creepy!
A few days later the same friends and I went back to central Lima for another sticky beak. This time we wanted to go to San Cristobel and see Lima from above. In the Plaza De Armas we found a lady selling colectivo bus tickets for 5 soles and just in the rickety old bus. The beauty of the colectivo bus is that it is ridiculously cheap, however they don’t like to leave until the bus is full. After three round trips of the main square we finally filled the bus to head up to San Cristobel. The drive was a crazy one, road rules in Lima just don’t exist. However it was a fascinating drive, we putted up hill through the colourful slums which is a massive contrast to the well developed areas of Miraflores.
Personally I was infatuated with the slums, there is just something about them that amazes me. How people can like in such simple yet tough conditions. Most of the houses were unfinished, apart from their splashes of brightly coloured paint. We went past locals going by their day, mostly just sitting and watching the world go by. I guess as a young Australian girl who has never really had it tough, it was confronting to see how other people in the world live. After about a 30 minute uphill slog – the poor van wasn’t coping too well – we made it to the top of the lookout where the giant cross stood majestically.
The view wasn’t perfect, a heavy smog lay over the majority of the city but we could still see for miles, even out to the neighbouring Palomino Island. I was gobsmacked by the view, I had no idea Lima was this huge. I guess 17 million people have to fit somewhere! We spent about half an hour looking out of the view in awe of the size. Below us sat the coloured slums and in the distant you could see the coastal area of Miraflores. It wasn’t the best view I’ve ever seen but I was mesmerised. That culture shock feeling that I’d been yearning for finally hit and I was welcoming it with open arms.
We caught the bus back down and sat by San Martin Plaza people watching until late afternoon. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again – Lima is just one of those cities that takes time to uncover. Like an onion (thanks Shrek) Lima has many different layers, just waiting to be revealed.